A 27-year-old man from the Southwest Virginia town of Pearisburg is being sought on a warrant charging him with murdering two hikers whose bodies were found last month in shallow graves on the Appalachian Trail near the town.
Law enforcement officers disclosed yesterday that a warrant was issued Tuesday charging Randall Lee Smith, said to be unemployed, in the slayings. tThe murders were the first on the popular hiking trail in six years and have spread fear among hiking enthusiasts along its 2,000 miles.
Issuance of the warrant came one day after Smith's abandoned pickup truck, reportedly with a note left inside, was found in the resort town of Myrtle Beach, S.C., about 300 miles southeast of Pearisburg.
"We don't know where he is," Virginia state police investigator Carroll Delp said of the suspect yesterday. While declining to elaborate, Delp also asserted that "we are optimistic about" finding him.
According to Delp, the suspect fits the description of an unknown, bearded, dark-haired man, between 25 and 30 years old, for whom police had issued a lookout June 3. Such a man was seen "acting weird" by other hikers near the spot where the victims' decomposed bodies were found, authorities said. Reportedly the man wore a green fatigue shirt and carried a hunting knife on his belt.
Delp said authorities know of no motive in the killings of the hikers, Susan Ramsay and Robert Mountford Jr., who were both 27-year-old social workers at a center for disturbed youths in Ellsworth, Maine. The victims' knapsacks and camera equipment, however, were not found with the bodies.
The victims had been missing for about 10 days before their bodies were found May 30 and 31 by a team of 40 searchers aided by tracking dogs. The bodies were found covered with leaves and forest debris about 75 yards from a shelter where they apparently had planned to spend the night.
Ramsay had been stabbed more than a dozen times in the chest and back. A plastic garbage bag was over her head and a cotton sleeping bag liner around her body. Mountford had been shot three times in the head. He was found in his sleeping bag.
An Associated Press account quoted one state police investigator as saying that key evidence includes both the note found in the pickup and items seized in a search of the home Smith shared with his mother in Giles County, about 270 miles southwest of Washington.